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From the Publisher September–October 2022

Who frames the “climate” debate in this country? Or any political debate, for that matter?

We all know the answer. Left progressives have mastered the emotive art of posing supposedly good intentions as actual arguments. They enjoy a childlike state of suspended disbelief that allows them to insist reality can be legislated. Being progressive increasingly means never accepting responsibility for the plainly foreseeable consequences of your proposed policies.

How many times have you found yourself explaining rather than asserting, arguing from your heels rather than requiring your interlocutor to make a positive case for state intervention to fix X, Y, or Z? We see this across a wide range of issues: making the case for government action satisfies the urge to do something (Save the Planet! Flatten the Curve!), while making the opposite case requires refutation and inferential thinking. Sound bites and slogans beat reasoned arguments.

Global warming, climate change, the Green New Deal, and environmentalism in general are pointed examples. The Left successfully frames these phony issues as urgent existential threats to humanity that only immediate government action can eliminate. This puts realists and market economists immediately on a defensive footing. Question begging is the order of the day, as in “Why don’t you care about the earth overheating?”

But we have good news. Our cover story features Alex Epstein, a brilliant young thinker who intends to reframe this debate entirely. Mr. Epstein is the author of Fossil Future, a remarkable new book that ranks among the most important you will ever read. Energy from fossil fuels, he explains, is part and parcel of human civilization and our entire material existence. He shows how the growing movement to restrict or even ban the use of oil, natural gas, and coal is not only delusional in terms of sustaining that existence—at least for the foreseeable future—but also profoundly antihuman.

While he provides mountains of data to advocate continued (and growing) fossil fuel use, the book’s most important contribution may be flipping the script on supposed environmentalists. Under Epstein’s rubric, the question is not “How do we achieve zero human impact on the environment?” but rather “How do we use energy to help create a world of greater human flourishing?”

The first question creates an impossibly loaded goal, literally never achievable but ideal for demonizing human industry and activity. It’s the perfect progressive framing. The second, by contrast, forces antienergy advocates to admit that the well-being of humanity is not their chief concern. It positions humans, energy, and the physical planet as cooperative parts of a whole. And it places the burden of proof squarely on the “catastrophizers” (Epstein’s great term) to justify upending our standard of living to impose their dubious green energy agenda, necessitated by a wholly unproven crisis.

Needless to say, Mr. Epstein has his critics. In a 2016 US Senate hearing, then senator Barbara Boxer from California attempted to dismiss Epstein as a philosopher with no official credentials to testify to matters of “science”—a term she cannot define and undoubtedly misinterprets to mean “the current progressive consensus on issues relating to science.” This exchange is telling:

Senator Barbara Boxer: Mr. Epstein, are you a Scientist?
Alex Epstein: No, philosopher.
Senator Barbara Boxer: You’re a philosopher?
Alex Epstein: Yes.
Senator Barbara Boxer: Okay. Well, this is the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. I think it’s interesting we have a philosopher here talking about an issue…
Alex Epstein: It’s to teach you to think more clearly.

Bravo! Anyone who corrects a clueless senator this effortlessly deserves our admiration.

We hope you enjoy this interview with Mr. Epstein, a heroic voice fighting the progressive narrative on climate—along with David Gordon’s full review of Fossil Future. Epstein’s rhetorical reframing of the climate debate applies equally to any number of political issues, and we should all follow his lead in our own battles against false narratives, emotional blackmail, and feel-good pandering.

As always, thank you for subscribing to The Austrian and for your support of the Mises Institute.

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